Maccabi nips Efes to ensure playoffs return!
Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv guaranteed its long-awaited return to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs by beating first-place Anadolu Efes Istanbul 77-75 at home in Menora Mivtachim Arena in a thriller on Wednesday. Maccabi raised its record to 19-8 to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in five years. Undefeated until now in 2020, Efes fell to 23-4 and saw its streaks of 11 overall wins and a EuroLeague-record 12 straight on the road come to an end. Maccabi got 21 points from Scottie Wilbekin and a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds from Othello Hunter. Yovel Zoosman added 11 points, 4 assists and 2 steals. Vasilije Micic and Krunoslav Simon had 14 points each for Efes, while Rodrigue Beaubois added 13, Tibor Pleiss and Shane Larkin 10 each, the latter in his return from missing two games due to injury. With great defense, Maccabi shot out to a 19-4 advantage, but Efes reeled it back to lead 36-42 at halftime and went up by double digits early in the third. Although Maccabi flipped the scoreboard once, Efes was till up 65-71 with under 3 minutes left when Angelo Caloiaro's back-to-back triples sparked a 10-0 run. Micic dramatically tied it 75-75 on a four-point play with 34 seconds left before Wilbekin's free throws put Maccabi up with 9.6 on the clock. Larkin tried to win it from deep at the buzzer, but missed.
Layups by Hunter and Zoosman combined with a triple from Wilbekin gave Maccabi a quick 9-2 lead. Even with Larkin and Dunston coming on following an Efes timeout, three-pointers by Zoosman and Wilbekin stretched the lead to double-digits, 17-4. Zoosman kept it going with a layup off Efes's fifth turnover already in 7 minutes. Moerman, from deep, joined Beaubois and Pleiss in reducing the difference to 21-11 after 10 minutes. Simone narrowed the gap with 7 points early in the second quarter as Efes drew within 23-20. Micic soon joined him but Aaron Jackson did more for Maccabi as the hosts' lead reached 31-26. Larkin's three-point play and assist for a triple by Moerman gave Efes its first lead since just after tipoff, 31-32. Wilbekin's triple fell next, but Pleiss and Beaubois answered as Efes completed the turnaround by taking a 36-42 advantage into halftime. A technical free throw by Larkin and a triple by Simon suddenly had Efes up by double digits, 36-46, to start the second half. Hunter kept Maccabi close before Zoosman's fastbreak finish and a layup by Wilbekin made it 48-50. Then Wilbekin drilled the go-ahead basket from well beyond the arc to close a 12-2 run at 51-50. Efes responded with a 0-7 run capped by a three-pointer from Micic. Larkin and Pleiss connected on an alley-oop, their second, as the visitors clung to a 57-59 difference after 30 minutes. Jalen Reynolds tied it with a put-back to start the fourth quarter. Micic soon broke a tie from deep while Beaubois added a tough layup and an open three-pointer to make it 61-69 for Efes with under 5 minutes left. Deni Avdija smoothly dropped in a pair of short shots before Beaubois answered at 65-71. Angelo Caloiaro stepped up with a triple for Maccabi, then did it again to tie 71-71. Another stop led to Wilbekin lobbing to Hunter for a go-ahead alley-oop with 1:25 to play. Next, Dorsey fed Hunter for a hook shot, but Micic stopped near mid-court to hit a shot that became a four-point play to tie 75-75 with 40 seconds left. Hunter's seventh offensive rebound let Wilbekin hit go-ahead free throws with 9.6 seconds left. After a timeout, Efes got the ball to Larkin, whose three-point try to win it was off, assuring a playoff return for Maccabi.
A well-timed milestone
Playing in its 450th EuroLeague this century, Maccabi's fifth consecutive win ended its longest playoffs drought. The last time it was in the postseason was 2015, when its title defense from the season before ended with a 3-0 sweep at the hands of Fenerbahce Istanbul. Meanwhile, already-qualified Efes could have clinched home-court advantage had Larkin's shot fallen, but will now have to wait for that achievement.
For the second time in a month, Hunter tied Maccabi's club record with 8 offensive rebounds -- also the most in the EuroLeague this season -- among his game-high 12 total boards. He added 15 points on 7-for-11 two-point shooting plus 2 assists for a PIR of 26 in a stellar show in which every stat counted.
Maccabi was still behind 65-71 when Angelo Caloiaro was left open to hit a three-pointer with 2:40 to play. Just 33 seconds later, after Hunter's sixth offensive rebound, Caloiaro struck again from almost the same exact spot, forging a 71-71 tie. Next time down the floor, Hunter dunked an alley-oop pass and Maccabi never trailed again.
Back in action
MVP candidate Shane Larkin returned for Efes after two games out with injury, but the big news was that center Bryant Dunston was back in action after missing 19. Both looked rusty, with Larkin missing all 5 of his three-point tries, including the potential game-winner, to finish with 10 points and 5 assists. Dunston played 4 minutes early on but didn't get many touches and had only a turnover to show on his stats line.
Doing it with defense
Maccabi came into the game with the EuroLeague's best defense, allowing opponents just 76.9 points on average, and did even better against the league leaders. A key stat was Efes dishing just 9 assists, its lowest total in more than two years, since February 8, 2018. Young forwards Yovel Zoosman and Deni Avdija had everything to do with the defensive effort, the former dominating on defense early in the game, and the latter doing so late, right up to the last shot, on which he shadowed Larkin, who missed.
Efes completes the double-round week by going home to host Olympiacos Piraeus on Friday. Maccabi turns around and visits Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade in Round 28, also on Friday.
Wednesday, March 4, 2020